Preview given of lake-level study
Researchers assessing erosion and human efforts to control
By Corydon Ireland
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Published January 26th, 2005
For years, Jack Moore of Rochester has watched high water
levels in Lake Ontario gobble up the sandy beach in front
of his Hamlin cottage and knock car-size rocks out of
"This is a hot issue," said the 65-year-old,
whose family has owned the cottage since the 19th century.
Officials who manage water levels in the lake aren't listening,
But Tuesday evening, about 80 area residents — Moore
among them — got a sneak preview of a five-year, $25 million
international study that will measure the impact of fluctuating
water levels on houses, beaches, dunes and shoreline protection
Commissioned in 2000 by the International Joint Commission,
the study is the most comprehensive ever done for the
binational 95-year-old Great Lakes advisory group.
It will access and quantify the impact of different models
of water-level manipulation on a variety of lakefront
interests: residents, industrial and municipal water users,
boaters and power generators.
The full study is due this fall, along with recommendations.
A researcher for the IJC's so-called Coastal Processes
Technical Work Group presented preliminary findings at
the Greece Town Hall.
There are nine such technical groups contributing to
the study on diverse topics, including shipping, hydropower,
water use and hydrogeology. The Rochester area, with its
concentration of lakeside property owners, is one of the
IJC's favored sites for assessing public opinion on water-levels
Canadian geoscientist Peter Zuzek, with the engineering
firm Baird & Associates, presented the coastal group's
Some highlights: Shoreline erosion is highest during
aggressive fall, winter and spring storms — but it's a
natural process and will continue whatever water levels
And the widespread building of shoreline protection structures
— 60 percent of Lake Ontario coastal structures have them
— has an ironic effect: Less sand and gravel is generated
by wave action, making disappearing beaches like Moore's
even less likely to return.
Without the regulation of water levels, which started
about 1960, said Zuzek, all the problems shoreline residents
complain about — erosion, flooding and fading beaches
— would have been far worse.
The rate of water flowing out of Lake Ontario is manipulated
at the Moses-Saunders Power Dam, which spans the St. Lawrence
River at Massena, St. Lawrence County.
"You're better off with the dam than without it,"
said Zuzek. "That's the science."
A U.S.-Canadian group, the International St. Lawrence
River Board of Control, makes water-level decisions. Fluctuations
often pit shoreline residents (who want low water) against
commercial interests (such as lake freight companies),
which favor high water.
The IJC study of water-level management will have a calming
effect on all the warring interests ringing the lake,
said Henry Stewart, a lawyer from North Greece who is
president of the Lake Ontario South Shore Council and
a member of the IJC's public interest advisory group.
Before this, people on the (St. Lawrence) river thought
they were at odds with the people on the lake, and vice
versa," he said.
"They don't have to be in competition. Things can
be worked out."
Arleen Kreusch, an IJC public affairs staffer who works
out of Buffalo, said experts on the study's coastal issues
will be back for public meetings this summer in Greece
and in lakefront towns in Niagara and St. Lawrence counties.
They'll release draft proposals, she said, and hunt for
And, in just a few months, said Zuzek, property owners
along the lake shore — and anyone else with Internet access
— can see the study's enormous database.
It divides the binational Lake Ontario coastline into
"reaches" measuring less than a mile — discrete
spans that detail hundreds of data points, from the height
of buildings and type of seawalls to geological formations
to the history of storms and waves for each location.